How to Build Self-Discipline for an Awesome Life

A lot of people don’t like the mere idea of developing their self-discipline. Unfortunately, it’s been too long associated with the idea of living a rigid, unchanging life with little spontaneity or fun. But this idea is completely false. In fact, self-discipline is essential in every part of your life, including the spontaneous and fun part, and without it your life would be a dull and gray thing that no one would want to be part of.

So what is self-discipline then? In its basic form, self-discipline is the ability to control your feelings and overcome your weaknesses. This sounds quite different from the idea of it as being a life and fun crushing thing. In fact, self-discipline may be one of the most important business skills you can develop if you want to achieve your goals and find success  in your life. And once you’ve developed this quality you will be able to enjoy the fun, spontaneous, parts of life with a clear mind and the knowledge that you haven’t left any important tasks undone.

Do you consider yourself to be a self-disciplined person? What would change in your life if you improved this skill?

What is Self-Discipline?

You might understand the basic definition of self-discipline, but that doesn’t mean that you would recognize it when you see it or be able to use it more in your life. There are a lot of misunderstandings about this quality, which is why most people think that disciplined people are those who do nothing but work. They think that self-discipline means never having fun and always denying yourself. In fact, self-discipline manifests in a variety of ways that are overwhelmingly positive for your life. These are some of the ways that it will express itself in your life:

  • You’ll have greater control of your emotions, your action and your reactions.
  • Your ability to resist temptation will increase.
  • You’ll persevere, no matter what obstacles are put in your way.
  • And you’ll keep trying, no matter what, until you succeed.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It’s certainly nothing like the rigid and unbending stereotype of a disciplined person.
 

Where Does Self-Discipline Come From?

Self-discipline is a complicated topic. Some days you will feel as if you have lots of it, and these are the days when you achieve everything you set out to do and then some. But other days you’ll feel as if your stock has completely run out so you can’t achieve even the simplest things. There’s a lot of debate about why this occurs, but the most popular theory at the moment is called the energy model of self-control.

The energy model claims that the brain is like any muscle, it gets tired from overuse and sometimes runs out of energy, which means that too much mental exertion can quite literally drain away your self-discipline and leave you eating pizza when you’re supposed to be on a diet. One of the benefits of this theory is that if it’s true it means you can refuel your brain and get back your discipline by resting and eating carbohydrates. This supplies your brain with glucose, the fuel it needs to function properly.

There is evidence both to support and to undermine this idea. However, one key insight has emerged from this debate. A recent study that examined the effects of mental depletion and tested the idea of ingesting a carbohydrate product afterwards to boost willpower for a second task found that it actually worked. Participants who took a sugary drink afterward a difficult task found that their self-discipline was restored to a certain extent. However, because there wasn’t time for the sugar from the drink to reach and replenish the brain, this effect can’t be because of a link between glucose levels and willpower. Instead, the researchers theorized that the drink itself acted as a type of motivation, a sugary reward that activated the brain’s reward system and caused a boost of motivation.

Because of these types of results, the research into self-discipline is ongoing and promises to continue for a long time. It’s also essential work, because the results could have long lasting implications for society as a whole as well as for individuals.

Self-Discipline vs Motivation

There’s a lot of debate about the benefits of self-discipline versus motivation, with support on either side. There’s even a fair bit of confusion about the difference between these two ideas. Motivation is the drive to do something, the reason why you get up in the morning and run or eat a salad when you’d prefer a burger. In contrast, self-discipline is the ability to control emotions and weaknesses so you don’t even really consider skipping your run. When you’re self-disciplined, you automatically eat salad because that’s what you always eat. And yet that doesn’t mean that self-discipline is more important than motivation in your quest to create a better life.

Both self-discipline and motivation have their roles to play. Motivation is the reason you start a project or a habit. It drives you to start an exercise program so you can look great in that favorite outfit on that special occasion. And you can use motivation later in your journey as well, by reminding yourself about why a goal is so important to you and using that reminder to drive you forward again.

But self-discipline is different. It works over the long term, but not always at the beginning of new projects or journeys. Instead it keeps you on course when you’re tempted to quit, and it makes you do the thing that’s right for you instead of the easy thing. Self-discipline is a habit of consistency and it’s a type of training that you put yourself through.

Self-Discipline and Motivation

The truth is that you need both motivation and self-discipline and neither of them is more important than the other. They work together and separately to give you the energy and the drive to move towards your goals no matter what obstacles are in your way. If you have motivation but not discipline, you will probably find yourself failing at your goals once you get a few months into your journey and the shine goes off your goals. And if you have self-discipline but not motivation you will probably struggle to start new habits, but carry out the old ones faithfully and without a fuss. That’s why you need to work on both of these tools. That will give you the best chances of achieving the results you want in your life no matter what stage you’re at.
 

What are the Benefits of Self-Discipline?

If you want to achieve your goals or attain any real success in any part of your life you need self-discipline. Most people understand this truth, but few deliberately work to strengthen this quality. Having self-discipline means that you have inner strengths and enough self-control to keep your promises and to work towards your goals and dreams. Without it, you might have a lot of dreams, but you would never be able to take more than a single step towards them.
Some of the most important benefits of developing your self-discipline includes the following:

  • You can control your emotions, both negative and positive.
  • Goal achievement.
  • You will make better, more rational decisions.
  • It helps you overcome laziness or procrastination.
  • It’s a tool that will help you overcome various addictions.
  • It improves your sense of control.
  • It improves your self-esteem and sense of worth
  • Your work productivity will increase and you’ll become a more valuable worker.
  • You’ll be happier all round in your life.

The Drawbacks to Developing Discipline

Working on your self-discipline will improve your life in countless ways, but that doesn’t mean that the journey itself will be easy. In fact, building self-discipline can be markedly unpleasant, and this is probably what puts a lot of people off the idea of doing the work. This reality is probably why self-discipline has such a bad reputation in the first place. Some of the less than pleasant side effects of developing this quality include the following:

It will be difficult

Building your self-discipline means denying yourself. It means controlling emotions that want to come bursting out in every direction. Most people seem to think that living true to themselves means expressing everything they feel, no matter how destructive that might be. But this is an unrealistic and quite frankly immature idea. Self-discipline won’t teach you that your emotions are without value, but it will teach you that sometimes they aren’t the most important thing in life. And this is key to moving past them and living a more rational, considered life. This won’t be easy. It can be difficult to overcome long held habits and social training. But if you’re willing to put up with a little discomfort it is absolutely possible.

It’s unpopular

Motivation seems to be the latest buzzword at the moment and everyone is talking about it. This means there’s a lot of information out there on how to build motivation. But information on how to develop your self-discipline is harder to find because it’s much less popular and it isn’t much fun. This will make your journey more difficult and more solitary as well. That doesn’t mean that you can or should give up, just that once you’ve built this quality you’ll be in very select company indeed.

It will feel bad

Sorry to tell you this, but building your self-discipline isn’t the same as building your motivation. Building motivation is often fun, but building your self-discipline will make you feel bad at first. Your emotions won’t like being controlled and your brain will rebel at the idea of having to obey over the long term. You also need to continue working on your self-discipline until it becomes part of your routine, which means continuing your chosen habits past the motivation stage and into the stage where it’s nothing but a hard slog that seems to be going nowhere. It’s only once you’re past this point that you’ll find success, but going through it is harder than you might expect.

You will fail

Some days you will fail no matter what you do and no matter how well you plan. This applies at the end of your journey as much as it does at the end. And the trouble is, when you do fail, you have to get right back up the next day and start again. Because getting up after failure is a part of being self-disciplined as well.
 

Essential Factors for Building Self-Discipline

There are lots of things that can derail all your work to build your self-discipline, but there are also things that can help you build it. These factors will help motivate you, they will give you a reason when you’re tired and don’t feel like it, and one of them is probably the reason why you started this process in the first place. Some self-discipline supporting factors include:

Your reason for change

If you’re doing it for someone else or because you think you should, it won’t work. You have to want the change for you, for some reason that only you really understand. Find this reason before you start the work.

Your commitment level

There’s no point in setting a goal if you ‘think’ you’ll start doing it soon. You need to commit to it, one hundred percent. That’s the only way you’ll get past the obstacles that are bound to get in your way.

Your personal standards

Building your self-discipline is hard. It’s much easier to sit on the couch and eat ice cream and pizza than it is to go for a run. To work on this aspect of your life means that you’re not only committed, but that you have high personal standards and won’t accept anything less than the best. This is the only attitude that will support you along this journey to unbreakable self-discipline.

Your rewards and punishments

A key part of motivation is the rewards and punishments for your behavior. This doesn’t mean that you should promise yourself a cake for showing self-discipline with your diet. In fact, using external rewards like this just tends to derail your motivation because they don’t change the underlying attitudes, just the behaviors in the short term. But the right kind of reward at the right time can give you a push when you really need it.

You need accountability

Telling someone else about your goals makes you more responsible for achieving them. It also means that someone is watching your behavior and that their opinion of you will suffer if you don’t achieve those goals. Most people will do almost anything to avoid losing face in this way, which is why you need to set up accountability when you’re working on your self-discipline.

You need a competitive spirit

Just remember that your real opponent is the past you, not a celebrity, friend or work rival.

You need a supportive environment

As stated before, your willpower and your self-discipline is finite and tends to run out at the worst times. So make its job easier by removing everything from your environment that could push you off the right path.
 

A Step by Step Guide to Developing Self-Discipline

Developing self-discipline takes time and dedication, the same as any other goal or achievement. And even once you’ve built up the habit you will have days when you feel and act incredibly disciplined and others when you can barely make yourself get up from the couch. Like anything else, self-discipline is a tool. It isn’t a magic pill and it doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically be eternally productive, happy and healthy either. But with this tool at your side, you’ll be much more likely to work towards these goals on a regular basis and achieve them as well.
Some ideas to help you develop your self-discipline include:

Define your vision

There’s no point in being self-disciplined if it’s pointing you towards things you don’t really want. Make sure you have a vision and a dream, this will both motivate you and show you how to use this tool.

Identify where you are and what you do now

With every goal, you have to know when you’re achieving it and when you’re falling behind. To help you track your own progress, make sure you do regular checks to see how far you’ve come. This will let you know whether your work to build self-discipline is working or not.

Choose one area to change

Trying to work on too many areas of your life at once is tiring and it depletes your supply of self-discipline as well as your mental energy. Choose one area to work on at a time and wait until that area is under control before you start on something else.

Make the change small

When you’re starting out, it’s likely that your self-discipline supply will be small and easily depleted. So plan small at the beginning, this will allow you time to build the ‘muscle’ of self-discipline before you put it to work on the bigger tasks.

Identify and remove temptations

Don’t use your self-discipline unless you have to or it will run out just when you need it the most. Remove all the temptations that might knock you off your path before you even start on the process.

Schedule your activities

Scheduling a specific time for your activities, whether it’s a workout or a work task, makes it official and unbreakable. And keeping to that schedule is what self-discipline is all about.

Set up accountability

Everyone knows by now how important it is to be accountable. So tell someone about your goal, and ask them to check in on your progress regularly. This can give your self-discipline the boost it needs to get the job done.

Check your progress

There’s no point in setting up a good system if you don’t make sure you’re on the right track regularly. Doing a weekly progress report will reveal how far you’ve come and delineate areas you need to work on.

Don’t accept excuses

This is an important idea. There are always excuses and seeing through them, and working through them, is a mark of true self-discipline. With very few exceptions, most excuses are just that, so ignore them and keep going.
 

Rewarding Yourself

Self-discipline and willpower are finite, and they do and will run out. But a good way to avoid that is to reward yourself in ways that recharge your mental batteries and give you even more willpower for the days ahead. Some good ways to do that include:

The Takeaway

Everyone knows that person who runs in the morning, brings a healthy meal from home to eat and gets more done at work than anyone else. Developing this kind of self-discipline for yourself may seem like a pipe dream, but the truth is that it just takes time and focus.  And it doesn’t mean that you have to deny yourself the fun parts of life. Actually, as long as you have self-discipline, you will be able to take those fun trips and outings with a clear mind. You will enjoy your life more because you have the certain knowledge that the other parts of your life are handled and under control.
What areas of your life could be improved by more self-discipline? Share them with us in the comments below.

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